Anton Casey is not every expat

Above: Anton Casey

I'm not Anton Casey. I just wanted to say that in case anyone thought that I was. You always feel like making that clear when the actions of one get wrongly associated with the many, particularly when the response is so swift and furious.

The new poster child for Singapore's expat millionaires does not stand for all expats, but as with every social media ruckus these days - the haste for retribution has left quite a lot of collateral damage.

The behaviour of one should not be considered typical of everyone else who lives here. But there is no point beating around the bush: Singapore has loads of Anton Caseys - rich financiers and bankers whose lives rarely collide with ordinary Singaporeans. Nobody who has lived here for any meaningful time can be surprised by such characters, because they are a part of life here. There are Anton Caseys everywhere in Asia, but they are not everyone.

I am British-Australian and most of my expat friends appreciate their Singapore lives: They do not look down at this city, they travel to work every day on public transport - not when their car is being serviced, but because they find the system much better and cheaper than the ones they are used to at home. Paris, London, Sydney - you name it - while no city can claim to have a completely stress-free transport system, everyone I know here appreciates that Singapore is as good as it gets.

They also appreciate that they are living in a global city that is changing every day, in one of the most interesting and diverse parts of the world, among a grouping of vibrant South-east Asian economies. They live here because they want to - for their families and their careers - and they hope to leave better off than when they arrived, but in no way are they guaranteed that.

Not all expats are living here as millionaires or are here to increase an already huge net worth.

My children love travelling on the MRT and the buses. I have been travelling with them on public transport for three years now, from the very first day I arrived. Back then, I'd get on a bus with a baby strapped to my chest. Quite often, local men and women - and sometimes drivers - would pinch my son's cheeks: It always amazed me how many Singaporean men would go all soft and gooey around the children. There is a kindness in Singapore which gets lost in all of this noise.

I am here to work and learn about Singapore and Asia; I do not make lots of money and I am not interested in being condescending to the city in which my daughter was born. This is home for my family now. I drink Teh C in the afternoons, I eat local hawker food - with a particular penchant for xiao long bao.

On Sundays, I take my children for salted chicken at Lam's in Balestier Road; the staff there pull out their iPhones when the children arrive and take photos of them, which amuses me no end. Singapore has been kind to me: I have been lucky to meet and work with many incredible local people and foreigners, of all ages and persuasions, whom I count as friends for life.

There are plenty of expats who do not take public transport - they own cars or get taxis everywhere. They may not all frequent hawker centres or indulge much in the local delights of Singapore because the bubble in which they live is far removed from the lives of locals.

That is not helped by the enclaves that expat communities form all over Asia: you can work, holiday and socialise entirely within a community of foreigners, and many do.

You can live in a city like Singapore without rubbing shoulders with local people, without knowing their struggles, if you choose not to; the world you live in may allow only a couple of touchpoints with an ordinary Singaporean - most likely taxi drivers.

It is far too easy to take the foolish comments made by one man on a medium like Facebook and build up a distorted picture of the other foreigners who live here as aloof, wealthy and disinterested in local life. Social media does that; it distorts and paints pictures that are much uglier or more beautiful than the reality, and reinforces those narratives again and again, much like the media can.

Mr Anton Casey could have posted these comments in any city in the world, and had them ignored. His perspective is no more typical of the expats who live here than the online comments of one Singaporean is typical of all Singaporeans' views about foreigners.

He issued two apologies and has now lost his job. I'd imagine he would trade a portion of his wealth to turn back the clock and retract his various social media postings. But that obviously is not going to happen.

If the end result of this uproar is that we have a wealth fund manager signing up with one of Singapore's community projects, rubbing shoulders with people whose lives are far more difficult than his own, then that is a good thing.

However, if a Singaporean mother and child are forced to live elsewhere as part of the collateral damage, that is a fairly stiff price to pay for stupidity. It won't help to tar all expats here with the same brush; some perspective is badly needed right now, particularly online.

The writer is a freelance journalist and media consultant.


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